Lareina Milambiling; London, England
Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe what you do, in a nutshell?
I’m a business intelligence analyst at the global fashion search platform Lyst. It’s my job to data mine and gather learnings about our customers, partners and the industry as a whole. There are thousands of fashion brands and millions of products all in one place, so it’s possible to spot trends immediately. A particular favourite of mine was the surprising spike in Ivanka Trump’s brand sales post election, despite many retailers dropping the label, and then tracking continued spikes after certain political happenings (such as Kellyanne Conway’s infamous endorsement). From our data, it was also clear that the support was focused mainly in red states. Being able see how varying world events can have such a big impact on consumer behaviour as part of my job is pretty incredible.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to the University of Western Ontario. I studied sociocultural anthropology and theoretical linguistics during my undergrad, then continued to do graduate work in linguistics and computer science. Computer science was not the original plan, but I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by professors at Western who recognized my varying interests and potential in these fields.
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
The summer before I started my MSc in computer science was my first summer not taking courses. I participated in the Google Summer of Code program while working at the campus bookstore to supplement the program’s stipend. It helped with my confidence as a relatively new computer scientist. I worked with an incredible mentor at the OpenCog, had my first taste of working with a large system and new programming languages I had not yet come across in school.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
I can’t say I’ve had one BIG break. My career path has evolved and changed direction too much for just one be the tipping point. It’s moreso that I had multiple mentors who saw potential in me as well as a family and partner who have supported me when I struggled to feel a sense of achievement in my current role or field. But once I felt a sense of achievement, I gained more confidence and dared to try more and more.
My first sense of achievement was having one of my first graduate linguistics papers accepted to an international conference. Despite pouring myself completely into this paper I found myself questioning if it was even worthy to submit. And when it was accepted I realized the opportunity I almost missed out on had I not tried.
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?
Does anyone ever feel that with 100 percent certainty? Don’t get me wrong, I’m optimistic and happy with my career but I’m also aware that life is unpredictable. I’d say at most I’ve had moments where I’ve felt more confident and capable of rolling with the punches or moments where I’ve thought to myself, This might just work out. From there I’ve continued to make sure I maintain this positive momentum as much as possible!
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
My biggest shortcoming for many years was doing what I believed I should be doing. I felt I should follow a path I knew would secure me in a career, like medicine or law. A career where, when people asked what I did for a living and I answered, there was no question that I had succeeded in securing myself a happy, respectable and comfortable professional life. The only problem was, I wasn’t happy. This mentality limited me from considering potential ways of incorporating my passions and hobbies into my school and work life.
Once I opened my horizons to interdisciplinary topics like linguistics and computer science I started to understand that if I’m doing something that sparks my interest and passion, not only am I happy but it’s so much easier to work hard and succeed. Since then I’ve held research positions in linguistics, computational linguistics and gaming. And of course, now I’ve been lucky enough to incorporate these skills with my love of fashion. It’s a dream come true.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
Be honest with yourself about your current role. Does it make you happy? Does it get you a step closer to your career goals and dreams? If you can’t say yes to either of those questions, it’s time to start making moves towards a role that does. Obviously it is not always possible to change your current job, but you can always start planning and make the changes necessary to get you in a position where it is possible!
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
“The only way to get there is…” Nope, there is not one right way to to achieve happiness and success in your career. You can’t predict where life will lead, you just have to be open to what comes your way and learn to recognize when the unexpected is an opportunity versus when it’s just misstep.
Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?
At first I felt intimidated and lacked confidence when entering the tech world as a woman, but as time when on I realized the only person holding myself back was myself. There was no need for me to feel out of place or that I needed to feel I had to prove myself. From my first internship at a gaming company, Big Blue Bubble, to my current position at Lyst, I’ve been quite fortunate to have respectful male and female colleagues and encouraging mentors throughout my career, and this made it easy to enter my own as a computer scientist.
Organizations and conferences like CAN-WIC, Women Who Code, Grace Hopper and European Women in Tech Conference are events and programs I have enjoyed, and being around strong intelligent women in the same field has really helped me understand that it takes time to learn to be confident in any field, male or female—but that doesn’t mean you don’t belong. The more you respect your capabilities and understand your gaps in knowledge, the better you can grow in your field. For this reason, in every city I’ve lived in I’ve made sure to participate and volunteer with organizations that promote women in tech so fellow women in this field have confidence early on and do not endure the same insecurities and self doubt I faced in the beginning of my career.
Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?
Lyst values its employees and I am compensated fairly but I know I’m fortunate since this is not the case at every company.
What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?
That we’re lazy, have short attention spans and are spoiled by speed. Yet the people I have heard these stereotypes from seem to not realize I am a millennial. These seem to be attributes these people have noticed in exceptionally young millennials, and I feel these aren’t features of millennials per se but stereotypical features of adolescents. Somewhere along the way the terms millennial and adolescent became synonymous and the number of negative stereotypes escalated.